Archive for April, 2012

In the adorable and carefully honed Skullgirls, eight is enough

, | Game reviews

There comes a time in some games when something so irresistible happens that you can’t very well not like it. Skullgirls has a few of those. When Ms. Fortune’s severed head latches onto an opponent and you first pull off a move called OMNOMNOM. Or when sexy nurse Valentine defibrillates back to life one of her fallen teammates. Or when Parasoul’s biker gang of commandos charges across the screen. Or when Peacock does pretty much anything that Peacock does.

After the jump, all the ladies in the house say ‘hey!’ Continue reading →

Best thing you’ll see all week: Penumbra

, | Movie reviews

Some of the best horror movies veer off in unexpected directions. There’s nothing quite so nice as having absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next. And there’s nothing quite so dull as watching a supposedly scary movie line up the plot points and knock them down like dominoes.

But, really, there’s no point calling Penumbra’s unfolding mystery a horror movie. This Argentinian gem reminds me more of Martin Scorcese’s miniature urban odyssey, After Hours, with the same black humor and the same off-kilter sense of place. Penumbra’s main claim to being a horror movie is the prior body of work of the brothers who wrote and directed it, Adrian and Romiro Bogliano. Their last movie was Cold Sweat, a goofy potboiler about creepy old men who use social media to lure young people and then kill them with nitroglycerin. The kidnapped heroine is slathered in the volatile stuff, so she has to be rescued by slowly dragging her out of the building on a blanket so she won’t explode. But only after removing her clothes because, you know, they’re soaked in nitroglycerin. There hasn’t been a more perfect marriage of narrative and disrobing since Saffron Burrows stripped out of her wetsuit to electrocute a shark in Deep Blue Sea. The hero in Cold Sweat wears a shirt that says Sorcerer. Get it? If so, you’re exactly the kind of person who doesn’t deserve Cold Sweat.

Penumbra could easily get by with a nod to a couple of classic thrillers of the 70s. But if I told you what T-shirt the hero would wear, it would be a spoiler. The delight of Penumbra is having no idea where it’s going. That’s the point. It’s a smart, sexy, slow burn with a bit of subtle social commentary, a flawed and unlikable main character, a great sense of mystery, and a satisfying payoff.

Penumbra is currently available wherever fine videos on demand are sold. And for another example of why Argentina is a country worth watching for nifty genre movies, I also recommend the thoroughly charming Phase 7.

April 30: wallet threat level Awesome

, | Games

If you need any convincing that Awesomenauts is a game to watch, I have two words for you: Swords and Soldiers. That’s the name of Dutch developer Ronimo’s last game, which managed a full-featured real time strategy game in a sidescrolling 2D world. Now they’re trying their hand at a Defense of the Ancients style strategy game for the Xbox 360 and PS3. They had me at Ronimo.

Fable: Heroes for the Xbox 360 is a simplified action RPG — do we really need to simplify action RPGs?– with an unintentionally creepy doll aesthetic and a boardgame where the skill tree is supposed to go. Having played a couple of levels, the only connection I can find to Fable is a chicken kicking minigame. I expect the farting, wiving, and dog training will be along later.

Tera Online is an MMO.

(UPDATE: Unfortunately, Awesomenauts’ publisher just went belly up. It looks like the game might be in limbo for the time being and this week’s wallet threat may, in fact, not be Awesome.)

Prototype 2 paints the town a new and improved shade of red

, | Game reviews

The gore is silly enough. Most gore is. The attempts at gritty edgy dialogue are even sillier. Prototype 2’s adult language is anything but. It’s playground bluster. If you got your tights in a twist over the bad guys in Arkham City calling Catwoman a “bitch”, Prototype 2 will send you into paroxysms of righteous indignation. Which is to say this is a prime example of how some videogame writers wouldn’t know good writing if it insulted their wives and called them a cunt. And that’s about all Prototype 2 has to offer in terms of storytelling: insultingly obvious, overintentionally gritty, childish, churlish. Just shut up, already, Prototype 2. You’re not impressing anyone. I have never skipped so many cutscenes so quickly and so willingly.

After the jump, but what about the game? Continue reading →

A Trip Down Horror Lane: say cheese!

, | Features

While Fatal Frame 3 is of course the third in the series, it’s not necessary to play them all. Here’s what you need to know from the previous games: a magic camera busts Japanese ghosts.

But this is no Ghostbusters game. In Fatal Frame 3, the protagonist Rei has been cursed. Her curse caused a tattoo to slowly spread across her body. Once it’s complete, she is damned forever. Each night she dreams about the haunted Manor of Sleep. The secret to breaking the curse is somewhere in the manor. To make matters worse, Freddy Krueger rules are in effect: dying in the manor means dying in real life.

After the jump, I am afraid of some ghosts Continue reading →

Weekly Little Big Planet: two by four

, | Features

4×4 from hell. I found this one quite by accident, stumbling into something called 3D FP House that was suggested under the Cool Levels header, but which was really just a demo. Luckily one of the rooms in the 3D FP House, the bathroom, had level links to the designer’s other work. Since I mentioned my occasional longing to return to Screamer 4×4 last week, I decided to jump into 4×4 from hell. So glad I did. While I find the lack of a scoring system to be irksome, I loved the shape of the world. It perfectly fits into the game I can’t get enough of right now. Another driving game.

Only this one is on two wheels.

After the jump, the jump Continue reading →

A Trip Down Horror Lane: one approach to homelessness

, | Features

Although Monolith missed the mark with Fear, they came close to a bulls-eye with Condemned, a first person title with a focus on close range combat. You could pick up random items lying around to use against an army of insane hobos. The basic fighting system let you block and counterattack, which enemies could do as well. Fighting enemies was a chaotic in-your-face experience. Since different weapons had different attributes, you had to make sure you had the right weapon for the job. Larger weapons would hit harder, but were slower and harder to block with, for example. While there were guns available, ammo was always limited.

After the jump, hobo with a wrench Continue reading →

Where you get all those wonderful toys in Jetpack Joyride

, | Games

Jetpack Joyride was already really good. With today’s free update, it’s even gooder. However, I question the entire premise of this being a “free” update. Yeah, sure, it’s free in that you don’t have to pay anything when you get it. Your copy of Jetpack Joyride will automatically update without you paying a cent.

But then you start playing and you’re confronted with two empty slots where you can equip gadgets (pictured). Go ahead and start playing anyway. In the starting room, you’ll see a pair of empty picture frames where your equipped gadgets would go. You want gadgets. You need gadgets. Gadgets are the new money sinks where cosmetic doo-dads used to go. But gadgets actually do stuff. As such, you will definitely want as many gadgets as you can get your stubby little jetpack operating hands on.

That’s not going to happen any time soon. Gadgets are expensive. Each one — there are fifteen — costs around 5000 gold. If you’ll indulge me, let’s do a little math. I tend to make 250 gold on the average run. That means 20 runs to buy each gadget. That means 300 runs to unlock all the gadgets, give or take. At which point I can now try to claw my way up from the bottom of the high score list. Or I can just buy gold as an in-app purchase. This is a cornerstone of Jetpack Joyride’s design.

The update doesn’t just add more grinding to encourage in-app purchases. It also seems to make the slot machine a more prominent part of the game. For starters, I’ve seen more slot machine tokens, which means the slot machine figures more prominently. My first run with the update was a record breaker, but not by virtue of me being better. Instead, I got a free life in the slot machine, which I promptly lost, but not before getting another slot machine token. My pull on the slot machine netted me three more tokens, one of which got me a small blast to push me a little farther down the run. Another of the free spins got me a nuclear blast to push me considerably farther down the run. New high score! Take that, you three people on my friends list who are now under my high score. Three down, about thirty to go! Seriously, how are all you people making 3000m and 4000m runs?

After the jump, browse the gadget catalog Continue reading →

A Valley Without Wind: punching meteors in the face

, | Game diaries

That’s a meteor about to land on the supplies I have to defend. I have to deflect it with my attacks, while also keeping an eye out for monsters. I basically punch it away. The mission ends after I’ve endured 100 meteors. Yep, 100 meteors. As I play this mission, I think of Dane Cook’s bit about bees: “I would punch every bee in the face”. So there’s me, punching every meteor in the face. Well, not every meteor. Just the ones that dare to come near my supplies.

After the jump, things to do when you’re not punching meteors Continue reading →

Qt3 Games Podcast: the return of Age of Empires Online

, | Games podcasts

This week we talk with Kevin Perry, the executive producer of Age of Empires Online, about the recent dramatic changes made to the game. We also discuss A Valley Without Wind, Streetfighters Cross Tech-In (close enough), Survarium (huh?), Shadowbane (yep, Shadowbane), and one of the best things to come out of the 90s (besides Xena Warrior Princess): Shadow Watch.


A Trip Down Horror Lane: forgetting how to fight

, | Features

Amnesia: The Dark Decent is a critically acclaimed game from Frictional Games, the makers of the Penumbra series. It completely failed as a horror experience. Every time I read that someone couldn’t finish or play Amnesia because they thought it was too scary, I mutter “lightweight” under my breath and laugh evilly for a few seconds. Amnesia has problems with design and tone. This isn’t the first horror game to remove combat, but it is the poster child for it.

After the jump, pacifist horror Continue reading →

Mass Effect 3 protest demonstrates the power of the power switch

, | Games

Time was a protest was an easy thing. You just showed up at the designated spot and it sort of happened. Then you went home and waited for the US to get out of Vietnam or whatever. But these days, you have to take a more active role, such as posting on message boards or signing online petitions. Let’s say you want a better ending in Mass Effect 3. If you want to join the latest demand that Electronic Arts, uh, fix the ending — whatever that may mean — you need to turn on your copy of Mass Effect 3 on a particular day, and then turn it off, and not turn it back on for at least a day. I think you also have to Tweet a Tweet. You’re also supposed to claim you’re not going to buy the DLC, no siree!, even though you know you will. It’s a pretty involved process. The details are available here. Oops, wrong link. I think this is the right one.

Since I was okay with the ending of Mass Effect 3 — it was about as good as the rest of the series! — I’m instead going to protest the beginning of Mass Effect 3. On May 7th, join me in not playing Mass Effect 3 to send a message to Electronic Arts that we demand they make that toy spaceship look more fakey.

A Valley Without Wind: where you never have to ask, “Are we there yet?”

, | Game diaries

It’s a bit strange to come from meticulously hand-crafted 2D exploration games like Waking Mars and Fez into the procedurally generated infinite expanse of A Valley Without Wind, another 2D exploration game which is available today directly from publisher Arcen Games or from a digital distributor near you. For one thing, A Valley Without Wind is very combat based. You can hardly walk the length of a screen without blasting something. Two or three somethings, more likely. This is a very actiony game. Consider hooking up your 360 controller.

Which doesn’t mean there’s less exploration. There might be a lot of blasting, but that in no way reduces the emphasis on exploration. So much geography!

After the jump, finding your way through infinity Continue reading →

A Trip Down Horror Lane: and you thought your family reunion was hellish

, | Features

Survival horror did not take as well on the PC compared to the consoles. Only a few PC games could be considered horror. The System Shock series, for instance. The Thief series featured scary sections, but they weren’t designed with horror in mind. In 2001, with help from horror writer Clive Barker, PC gamers got an amazing horror title to call their own.

After the jump, a double barreled family therapist Continue reading →